Monday, May 29

Post-Independence Nigeria – A Panoramic View

How old is Nigeria? 103, 57 or 54? The answer is in the eye of the beholder. The geographical boundaries of the territory eventually named Nigeria were consolidated and merged into one country in 1914 by Great Britain. Although Nigeria gained independence from Britain on 1st October, 1960, she remained under the titular headship of the Queen of England until 1st October, 1963 when she adopted the constitution that gave her a republican status. Nigeria is generally believed to be 57 years old, which presupposes that the life of Nigeria as an independent country began on the day she gained independence, and not the day she attained a republican status. That Nigeria became independent on 1st October, 1960 may not mean much more than her destiny being in her hands as from 1st October, 1960 when she was legally weaned or, more correctly, legally freed from the suzerainty of Britain. Unlike the independence of a child that emerges through developmental stages of childhood to adulthood, whose independence or autonomy refers to freedom from the grooming of parents, national independence for Nigeria means that from the date of independence, all her decisions and choices have been hers and she has since then been responsible for those decisions and choices. This piece, however, is not out to question Nigeria’s independence; rather it is a personal overview of how the country has fared since independence. At independence, the country was divided into East, West and Northern geopolitical regions, each administered by an elected premier and an appointed Governor serving as a symbolic or nominal head. Midwestern region, comprising present-day Edo and Delta, was carved out of Western Nigeria in June 1963. The Eastern region comprised the current Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States. The Western region was composed of present-day Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo States. Though Lagos served as the capital of the federation, it was largely part of Western Nigeria. The remaining 19 states in present-day Nigeria plus the Federal Capital Territory formed the then northern region. It is difficult to characterize the then Eastern region at independence. The region was predominantly Christian. Colonial trading interests had also melted with the republican nature of the Igbo-speaking part of the region to give the region a mercantile feel that persists up to this moment. Although the Western region had both Christian and Islamic religious influences, its early contact with western education and the free education policy of its leadership had a great impact on its post-independence life. Although the Southern Protectorate that was amalgamated with the Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914 was later subdivided into the Eastern, Western and Midwestern regions, the Northern Protectorate was left intact as at independence. The involvement and influence of traditional rulers in politics was sustained in all the regions after independence. All the regions maintained their republican status and conducted their affairs largely independent of the others. Northern Nigeria modelled its Government after the Westminster system with a Premier as Head of Government and Chief Executive, with a ceremonial Governor. The region also had a bicameral legislature comprising a House of Assembly composed of elected representatives and an upper House of Chiefs composed of emirs appointed by the Governor from among the Native Authority Councils in the region. The Eastern region had a similar Government structure. There was an elected premier who acted as Head of Government and Chief Executive Officer in charge of the day-to-day affairs of the region. The Governor, like the northern Governor, was a mere figurehead in charge of the ceremonial functions of the region. Although the region, which also had a bicameral legislature, did not have strong and influential traditional institutions like the north, local government councils modelled after the British system of boroughs county districts were overtime created and allowed to function in the region as grassroots government structures. The Western region, with similar government structures, was also granted independence to rule itself in August 1957. Unlike the other regions that had various ethnic nationalities, the Western region was predominantly Yoruba. The various regional governments laid the foundations for development in the respective regions; many have argued that the country would have fared better if the regions had not been dissolved and the country Balkanized into the present states system. British interest was drawn to Nigeria by British corporations. British Colonial administrative and legal structures were merely superimposed on the tracks of the spheres of trading influence of British corporations. An assessment of Nigeria’s progress since independence cannot, therefore, be complete without an answer to the question as to whether or not Nigeria’s economy has transited from a colonial economy to an economy made by Nigerians for Nigerians. If the character and structure of the economy – in terms of ownership and control of strategic and economy-defining corporations – favours foreign interests, then the Nigerian republican state would have within the years of independence failed in its duty to establish, maintain, protect and expand the conditions for its citizens to exploit the abundant resources of the country. Common sense will make the proposition that if colonial rule was for the exploitation of Nigerian resources for the colonial master, then independence and self-governance should have reversed the trend. Although a straightforward answer to the proposition would require comparative and empirical analysis of various statistical data and microscopic examination of historical narratives of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, one is tempted to say that the Nigerian economy has over the years generated a sizeable community of middle and upper classes of Nigerians. If the imbalances in the distribution of wealth and capital are ignored, and the issue is purely a comparison between how Nigeria fared during colonialism and now, the conclusion should, without doubt, be that Nigeria has justified its independence. Akin to the influence of corporations in the colonial life of Nigeria is the role of administrative bureaucracies in the exploitation of Nigerians and their resources. Part of the sins of colonialism was that it imposed bureaucratic structures on Nigeria whose purpose and goal was to facilitate and maximize the exploitation of the wealth of the country. It can be justifiably argued that today’s administrative bureaucracies are still agents of exploitation. If corruption has been the bane of Nigeria’s development the blame must go to the country’s bureaucrats. Rather than being a people’s civil service, the Civil Service system is still a service for the consolidation of the stranglehold of the nation’s resources by a privileged few and a callous subordination of people’s desire to have an expanded benefit and capital accumulation system. In a word, therefore, like the colonial bureaucracy, the independent Nigerian bureaucracy is not a change agent and is incapable of promoting the needs and interest of the masses or the majority of the population.  Religion was also a key component of colonialism. Whereas the exploitation of Nigeria by colonial corporations was obvious, that of religion was subtle but equally impactful. Christianity and Islam successfully divided the country into two nations: Muslim north and Christian South. This division has not only persisted but has equally polarized the country and made the building of a nation state out of the country extremely difficult.  Traditional institutions have fallen down in pecking order of constitutional authorities and are no more commissioned agents of colonial tax system and exploitation. The military incursions and subversion of constitutional authorities affected traditional rulers and ruined irretrievably any effort to reinstate their pre-colonial pre-eminence and respectability. The military-made constitutions took traditional rulers away from the constitutionally prescribed politics and relegated them to gatekeepers of their people’s traditions and customs. It can be argued with justification that the removal of the participatory role of traditional rulers in government at the local government level has not improved governance at the grassroots level. In a way it has merely yielded governance at that level to state governors since elected officials at that level do not possess the stature and status of traditional rulers and can hardly serve as a check on them. The military inherited at independence became the enemy of independent Nigeria. The independence of Nigeria was negotiated by three independent regions, and a true federal state was established at independence. In just about six years in the life of independent Nigeria, the military struck and overthrew the Federal Government in a bloody coup in which the premiers of Northern and Western Nigeria were needlessly killed. Worse still, the Military Government that emerged from that coup dissolved the regions and the federal structures. That Government was in itself overthrown in a counter-coup that was followed by a thirty-month civil war between Eastern Nigeria and the rest of Nigeria. From January 1966 to 1979, the country reeled and retrogressed under successive military regimes. The regaining of a democratic and republican Government in 1979 was short-lived as the military struck again on 31st December, 1983, staying in power until 1999. The military did not only kill federalism, as they imposed a strong Federal Government on weakened states, but reduced the entire efforts of governance to the exploitation and sharing of the petroleum resources of the South-South. The military also institutionalized corruption and made it a key tool of governance. Although there has never been a countrywide accepted population figure for the country, it can be argued that Nigeria has grown from a population of about 60 million people as at independence to about 200 million today. However, the nation’s infrastructure and service delivery authorities have not matched this exponential increase in population. Educational institutions have increased but the quality of education has not marched the increase. It is, however, unadvisable to characterize the country in terms of only its challenges. The challenges described above are in no way strange to many of the countries that gained independence from their colonial masters around the same time as Nigeria. If grades were needed to make the point, one would say that Nigeria has scored above average marks in its developmental strides and consolidation of its independence. The country has, today, the largest economy on the continent and boasts of the most enterprising population on the continent as well. She has hit high notes in areas of sports, arts and science with Nigerians recording cutting-edge contributions in science and technology across the globe. As a symbol and touchstone for the black race, Nigeria cannot be said to be wanting. The threshold of her diplomacy demonstrates admirable leadership and source of succour for the continent. The country’s contributions to continental and sub-regional peace are second to none on the continent. In a sense, therefore, Nigeria could not be said not to have justified its independence.

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